The Puja Dukan features…
India’s Exotic Textiles
As everyone who has made a pilgrimage to India knows, the experience can be like a swim in the sea of the senses-sights, smells, tastes and textures passing in waves over us as we float through holding our breath…. We are often humbled by the incredible craftsmanship and long hours of work involved in creating masterpieces to wear, offer and enjoy.
Join us on a little trip around the subcontinent as we explore some of the textiles of India available in the Puja Dukan.
Chikan is a traditional embroidery style from Lucknow in North India. There are references to Indian chikan work as early as the 3rd century BC by Megasthenes, who mentioned the use of flowered muslins by Indians. There are several tales about the origin of chikan work in Lucknow-it is said to have been introduced by Nur Jehan, the wife of the Mughal emperor Jahangir; there is also a tale of a traveler teaching chikan to a peasant in return for a drink of water.
The technique of creation of a chikan work is known as chikankari. White thread is delicately embroidered on white or cool pastel shades of light muslin or cotton garments. In order for the embroidery needle to pierce it, the fabric cannot be too thick or hard.
The first step in Chikankari is to block-print a pattern onto the fabric. The pattern is then stitched over and the finished piece is carefully washed to remove all traces of the printing.
Front view of Chikan embroidery being done over temporary block printed pattern
& Chikan embroidery from the back
Chikan is a traditional embroidery style from Lucknow in North India. There are references to Indian chikan work as early as the 3rd century BC by Megasthenes, who mentioned the use of flowered muslins by Indians. There are several tales about the origin of chikan work in Lucknow-it is
The patterns and effects created depend on the stitches and the thicknesses of the threads used.
There are 32 types of chikan stitches. Below are the names and descriptions of a few:
• Tepchi is a long running or darning stitch worked with six strands on the right side of the fabric taken over four threads and picking up one. Thus, a line is formed. It is used principally as a basis for further stitchery and occasionally to form a simple shape.
• Bakhiya or ‘Shadow work’ is so named because that the embroidery is done on the wrong side and we see its shadow on the right side.
• Hool is a fine detached eyelet stitch. A hole is punched in the fabric and the threads are teased apart. It is then held by small straight stitches all around and worked with one thread on the right side of the fabric. It can be worked with six threads and often forms the center of a flower.
• Murri is the form of stitch used to embroider the centre of the flowers in chikan work motifs. They are typically French knots that are rice-shaped. Murri is the oldest and most sought-after form of chikankari. The use of this stitch is depleting due to a decrease in the artisans doing this embroidery.
• Jali stitch is one where the thread is never drawn through the fabric, ensuring that the back portion of the garment looks as impeccable as the front. The warp and weft threads are carefully drawn apart and minute buttonhole stitches are inserted into the cloth.
Block printing is a very popular technique in northern and western India. Any number of items can be block printed and one finds block printed saris, kurtas, bedsheets, scarves and other household and clothing pieces.
Check out this great video about block printing in Rajasthan:
Here is another video about the block printing process and the block printing industry:
A torana (Sanskrit) or toran (Hindi) is a type of gateway seen in the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain architecture of India and other parts of East and Southeast Asia.
Both Chinese paifang gateways and Japanese torii gateways are derived from the Indian torana. The functions of all three are similar, but they differ in their respective architectural styles.
In the Kalinga architecture of Orissa in eastern India we can see the torana in many temples built from the 7th to 12th centuries. The Jagannath Temple at Puri and the Rajarani and Mukteswar temples in Bhubaneswar are exquisite examples.
Related Styles of Toranas
A toran is also the name for a hand-embroidered and embellished door hanging, traditionally made in Gujarat, on the coast of Northwestern India. It is easy to see the connection between the embroidery of the fabric hangings and the detailed stone carvings, as well as in their function to welcome both the gods and people. Decorative torans also play a role in holidays like Diwali and Holi or at weddings and celebrations as they are believed to be auspicious and lucky. The doorway blesses every person that walks under it, showering them with an abundance of love, prosperity, health and happiness. While the heavily embroidered ones tend to be regional to Gujarat, torans in other forms are popular throughout India. In the south, green mango tree leaves are threaded together and hung across the door. In Northern India, marigold flowers are strung together and used the same way. The small flaps that hang from the fabric versions are meant to represent dangling leaves and flowers.
Fabric torans can be made from different materials and in in different styles with different motifs, depending on their region of origin. Several types are pictured below:
While glass beads are used today in necklaces and bangles in many parts of India, glass seed beads seem to have been introduced only after 1700 and only in one small area – the Kingdom of Saurashtra in what is today southern Gujarat.
The shapes and forms of the beadwork echo those used in the embroidered and appliquéd torans made in the area. The beadwork displays motifs of animals, people, gods, flowers and trees, usually scattered on a white background.
Several unique beaded torans and a type of wall hanging called a chakla are all available at the Puja Dukan:
Beaded Torans from Kutch
Krishna Beaded Toran
Embroidery and Mirror Work
Hand-embroidered bags from Rajasthan
Abhla Bharat or Shisheh Embroidery (Mirror Work)
Shisheh embroidery was introduced from Muslim lands during the Mughal Empire in the 17th centurey. However shisheh embroidery was not used on Mughal clothing but rather found only on traditional folk clothes of South and Central Asia. The term shisheh means glass in Persian, from where the word transferred to Urdu/Hindi and other related languages.
Traditionally, shisheh or abhla bharat work was done using mica but beetle, tin, silver or coins were not uncommon depending on the region. This was replaced by glass blown into large thin bubbles and broken into small pieces for this use which is why traditional shisheh mirrors have a convex curve. The tradition of making circular shisheh was extensively done by women in South Asia, who use special scissors that are repeatedly dampened to prevent flying shards. The small mirrors are held in place by a framework of overlaid embroidery stitches. No glue is used and the mirror is not threaded through or attached in any other way. While many of the other decorative stitches, such as the chain stitch, are universal, shisheh work is unique to the Indian subcontinent. Women are solely responsible for these creations and motifs and patterns are not copied or written down, but instead passed along orally.
Among Hindus, Muslims and Jains in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana it is believed that the mirrors have the power to ward off evil spirits by trapping or confusing the evil eye. Shisheh toranas are often hung over doorways for protection for that reason.
Kathi embroidery also hails from the state of Gujarat and is another vibrant style.
These gorgeous pieces beautify the simple village surroundings of the Kathi people. The woman create any number of different types of embroidered items including door panels, door hangings, seat covers, baby crib covers, items of clothing like the “ghagra” a traditionsl women’s skirt, canopies and decorations for camels, cows, bullocks and carts. Taking inspiration from their surroundings, the women choose themes for their embroidery from everyday life like peacocks, parrots, elephants, camels, flowering plants, women filling water, women churning butter, wedding processions, folk dances like the Raas Lila and hunting scenes as well as Hindu gods like Ganesh, Surya (the sun), Radha Krishna and even Hanuman!
The embroidery is done with Silk floss called Heer in bold colours. Purple, magenta, electric blue, parrot green, lemon yellow, golden yellow and red fill the large areas while white or black are sometimes used to add an outline in motifs.
Two predominant design styles are geometric patterns such as the eight pointed star and boxed panels filled with embroidery and the motifs are drawn free-hand usually depicting flora, fauna and human figures.
There are distinct different variations in Rabari embroidery across the different Rabari sub groups. The three groups in Kutch are the Kutchi, Dhebaria and Vagharia. All trace their ancestry to the mythical Sambal, created by Lord Shiva to look after camels. Rabaris in Northwest India migrated from the Thar desert in Rajasthan in search of good camel grazing lands. Embroidery is an important part of a Rabari woman’s life, evident in the unwavering work put into her embroidery on a daily basis and visible in various garments such as the choli or blouse, shawl and skirt, most elaborately embroidered for ceremonial wear at important functions like weddings. Mirrors are used in various shapes and sizes and abstracted forms of scorpions, peacocks and parrots as well as flowers and geometric patterns are embroidered in chain stitch and accent stitches in bold colours. Back stitch bakhiya is also used to decorate the seams of women’s blouses and men’s kediyun jackets.
Traditionally, Rabari women practiced embroidery as an integrated part of their nomadic existence. Embroidery was an affordable aesthetic expression of community, sub-community and status within that community. Embroidery was portable, created wealth. A woman adorned herself and her household with her own efforts, utilizing time between more essential chores. The glittering pieces that a girl embroidered for her dowry were considered a contribution to the marriage exchange. Women worked as artists, without thought of time, concentrating on making the most beautiful contributions they could, knowing that their work would be appreciated by community members who shared their aesthetics and values. Not only would Rabaris not think of dowry pieces and personal adornment in terms of commercial value; they feared showing them lest outsiders would try to purchase them.
Now Rabari embroidery pieces are available for sale and Rabari women are earning wages from their art. These unique pieces remind us to take time to integrate beauty and aesthetics into our daily lives.
Toran from the Rabari tribe in Kutch, Gujarat
Join us for a tour of the winter farm. This is the first in a series of seasonal farm walks where we talk about the ways that we experience the land in the different seasons. In this first walk of the year we discuss some of the projects and visions for 2017 and get acquainted with the lay of the land.
NOW ACCEPTING FARM SEVA
APPLICANTS FOR SPRING & SUMMER 2017!
To learn more about our permaculture farm, visit: http://nkbashram.org/ashram/babas-permaculture-farm/
“Wherever Baba turns his face, the universe also turns.”
-Shravan Nath Sang, “The Divine Reality”
At Maharaj-ji’s Kainchi Ashram there is a farm just down the valley run by the ashram. It provides many of the fruits and vegetables used to prepare the Prasad offered to Maharaj-ji and the deities in the temples. Crossing the river into the farm, visitors are greeted by the sight of rows of neatly growing vegetables. Nestled in an orchard shaded by fragrant fruit trees, a small Hanuman murti blesses the spot.
Inspired by the example of the farm at Kainchi and by the desire to move towards sustainability, Baba’s ashram in Taos began expanding our small vegetable garden and modest young orchard in 2008. Today, we have a dairy cow, a growing fruit orchard, several bee hives, a perennial medicinal herb garden and about an acre of cultivated land used for growing annual herbs, vegetables and flowers.
For more information about Hanuman’s Garden, Baba’s Permaculture Farm, please visit the farm page
Many people have served Maharaj-ji by serving his land in Taos. The overwhelming response to being a part of this relationship is that it has been incredibly rewarding. Sevaks comment that there is a deep and subtle beauty experienced when connecting and serving in the plant and animal kingdoms.
NOW ACCEPTING APPLICANTS FOR FARM SEVA
for Spring & Summer 2017.
If you are interested in participating in the ashram farm seva program, please contact Jesse, our Farm Manager, at email@example.com or Anandi, Ashram General Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who don’t have the opportunity to garden or who can’t come and serve at the ashram farm, there are also lots of ways to support others who are growing food in your community.
Here are a few resources:
Find out more about how to eat locally and develop relationships with local farmers and other food producers:
Find a local farmer’s market:
Apply for a grant to start a business promoting locally grown food or expand on a current business:
Don’t have a convenient source of locally grown food in your community?
Find out how to start your own community marketplace and connect local food providers with consumers:
We recently spoke with Jesse Harrison, our resident farm manager, about some of his experiences at Hanuman’s Garden. Here is what he has to share:
Q: What inspires you about growing food for Maharajji’s prasad?
A: Regardless of where I farm I will always bring Maharaj-ji with me, but it is especially incredible to grow food here because we believe that the ashram land is Maharaj-ji’s body. I always look at the photograph in the temple room where Maharaj-ji is in the foreground and behind him the feeding pavilion at Kainchi is being constructed. He always looks like such a bad-ass to me in that photo. He has a smile on his face as if to say that this is all a part of his grand scheme. I always feel that this place is a part of that and that he saw it all and is behind the scenes orchestrating this grand project. Now the expansion of his vision is finally really coming together here in Taos. I feel that the picture is especially pertinent now with the combination of the new temple being built, the pond and the farm. I feel like my role in that grand scheme is to make sure that whatever I do has to be fit for Maharaj-ji. This isn’t just somebody’s homestead-it is something so much greater than we can comprehend. Whatever I do I dedicate to Maharaj-ji and I remember that I am working for him and his goals.
Q: Why is it important for the ashram and its mission to have an on-site farm?
A: Our food source is one of the pillars of a sustainable community. Having an on-site farm is the most direct way to assure quality, dependability and security for our food. And food is at the heart of Maharaj-ji’s mission.
Q: What are some of the projects that the ashram farm is involved in to become more sustainable and to move forward into the future?
A: When I came on to the farm, my first priority was to get the ditches to functionally irrigate. When I first came to the ashram I would always be the one out there cleaning them. When I would mow the lawns and play with the water I saw that it was impossible to irrigate most of the ashram property. The road leading to the back field had sunk down and there were some low areas that would catch all of the water. Near the orchard the water would flow out of the ditch and just spill into a big pool. Then about 5 years ago Suzanna and Jean Jacques approached the soil and water conservation district about putting in two head gates on the acequias. They have been fully functional for the last two seasons and that has helped a lot. And now I have gone from being the guy who was always ready with a shovel to help clean out the ditches to being the Mayer Domo of the Acequia de los Lovatos and managing the water flow for 20 or so parcientes, or property owners along the ditch, that all depend on its water to irrigate their land.
Our next step as far as water is to wean ourselves from reliance on ground water and cut down on using our wells to irrigate. In the summer the ditch slows to a trickle which isn’t enough to irrigate with. But we always thought that if we could capture even that trickle and stockpile it in a pond, we could pump it out to the fields. A pond would also offer the opportunity for aquaponic fertilization-fish and birds who are attracted to the water would leave their guano and fish droppings and add fertility that way. Their presence will also help to control insects. Last year we began the process of creating a pond which will beautify the property and secure our water source. The final phase of its construction will be completed in the spring when we will add the finishing touches to its contours and smooth in a final layer of clay soil.
Another ongoing project which has been in the works for the last couple of years has been getting the permaculture plan for the beds implemented. When I first came there were lots of weeds, so restoring fertility to the land and cover cropping has been very important. I did a topographic survey of the land and used that information to determine lay, style, shape, length and curvature of the beds. Based on the contours of the land it has now all been key-lined, or tilled in level planes. I did some research and found that a chisel plow, a sub-surface ripper that doesn’t turn the soil, was the best implement. Some people say that we should have grated the whole thing but the slope is at least three feet lower at the low end of our field than at the high end. Because we only have about a foot of topsoil in places we would have scraped it all off in certain areas. Below that is an old river bed with cobble that goes down very deep. These mountains are young and as they grow they slowly push the river farther and farther west, away from us. The land that we are currently farming on was probably the ancestral Rio Pueblo-the sacred river originating at the top of Taos Mountain and irrigating Taos Valley. Now the levels are all set up for us to go to no-till farming. This is the first year that we will go primarily no-till. I plan to go at least five years without tilling. Cover cropping is a traditional method that is now being much better researched. No-till organic farming with heavy implementation of cover cropping has been gaining in popularity over the last 30 years or so. It is exciting to read about and experiment with new ideas and techniques as they emerge and it gives me the feeling that the whole world is learning along with me.
The next phase of growth has been to look at sun, shade and temperature. We have been planting lots of trees to create woodland buffer zones which protect against wind and excess sun as well as cutting down on unwanted cross-pollination (for example between types of kale plants). Shady areas would help us to extend the growing season for cilantro, lettuce etc. As we wait for the young trees to come to maturity, we have explored other methods for creating shade. One of the challenges of growing in the high desert climate are the large temperature swings between daytime nighttime temperatures. We have better luck with cooler weather crops because of our cool nights. It is easier to amend the conditions to favor them than it is to try and keep it warm enough for the warm weather loving crops like tomatoes. Last year we built a shade structure over one of our fields and it worked great. We plan to use it again this year and expand on it. We do continue to grow warm weather crops like cucumbers and tomatoes in our green house. I would like to improve its effectiveness by building a solid earthen wall on the north side which will hold the solar energy and radiate it out. I would also like to replace the clear plastic on the south side with a more permanent glass wall. We also plan to build a walipini-a dug-in green house of the type used in the Andes-in the high area of the land. We did a miniature version of this design to protect our tulsi starts last year and we really liked the results.
Our upcoming agenda for this spring is to complete four outstanding projects-the harvest structure, the root cellar, the pond and the greenhouse. This year I am also going to work a lot with compost tea and spraying it on the fruit trees.
Q: How do you see climate change or other earth changes affecting farming?
A: Growing food in news-making climate conditions is definitely neither stable nor predictable. My attitude always is-don’t be attached to the fruit of your labors, it is karma yoga. Do it for the Mother, and if she smiles on you, you get a good harvest!
Q: You mention a five-year plan looking forward. So are you in it at Hanuman’s Garden for the long haul?
A: For a long time my goal was to finish the pond and get the farm sustainable and then to step away. But now I’ve stopped thinking about that. It is amazing raising my family here. And there isn’t anyone else stepping in to take over the reins.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges about growing food in community? At the ashram in particular?
A: It can be difficult to get the consistent help that we need throughout the growing season. I have to work with whatever I am given in terms of sevaks and sometimes people blow in for a week, or sometimes just for a day or even an hour. I want to give everyone a chance to help out while also making sure that I am getting the needs of Maharaj-ji’s farm met. There is a lot of seva that would be great to have help with, but though it may seem simple, can in fact be so critical that something important can be deeply damaged or permanently destroyed through just one thoughtless action. Another challenge that I have met is around some of our farm sevaks’ attitudes towards karma yoga. People sometimes feel that work is the opposite of prayer or that they would rather be praying than working. I urge them to surrender to the notion of “work as worship” and to understand that especially for the live-in community here, seva really is our fundamental practice.
Another challenge has been to move beyond the idea of the ashram farm as a commercial enterprise. Last year we had a farm stand and I feel that its greatest success was that it got people out to the farm and allowed them to experience it and interact with the farmers and the land. But as far as being worth the time we put into it and supporting the farm financially, we would have been better off at the Farmer’s Market. Shoppers are encouraged to use their food stamps there and we can’t take them here. Though we distributed a fair amount of farm vouchers for free produce, people slowly stopped coming as the season wore on, even for free food. The produce rots in their fridge and they feel bad and don’t come back. They don’t want to waste the sacred food. But I think that the issue is deeper than the farm stand location. People don’t buy too many vegetables. I can get my two-year old daughter Scarlet to eat carrots and beans and peas out in the field but she won’t touch them when I cook them in the kitchen. She loves mac and cheese. “I don’t like peas,” she’ll say. “But it was your favorite thing in the field!” The easy energy in bread and sugar gets us all hooked. One of the reasons that people aren’t buying vegetables is that they just don’t cook as much anymore. Even to cook something as simple as our New Mexican staple, chile, for example, requires a lot more than just the vegetables-the butter, bullion, etc. Even the time for preparation and clean up (time is money!) requires a lot of resources. For those who can afford it, overpriced “fresh cut” food is the new trend because people feel they have something better to do with their time than to spend it in the kitchen.
In my opinion, we can put the farm produce to best use when we cook Prasad here at the ashram and feed people. Food goes bad so quickly-you set a timer as soon as you harvest it. We can work as a group to process and preserve large amounts of harvested food. Another benefit of cooking food in community is that it is inspiring to cook for a group and to experiment with new flavors, ingredients and cuisines. Feeding people is the basis of society-all have to eat. It is much simpler and more “organic” to put the harvest directly into the kitchen without trying to attach a dollar amount to it-knowing that it will be Baba’s Prasad.
To make the community model work, everyone has to get involved. I would really like to see more involvement in seva-farm seva or otherwise-from the satsang members who regularly visit the temple. We had a wonderful group last summer that would get together on Fridays and string marigold malas for the Farmer’s Market which was really helpful. But there has to be a general level of involvement on a regular basis for the whole flow from planting, weeding, harvesting, washing, chopping, drying, canning, pickling, freezing, cooking, serving, cleaning to be sustainable. And if it can work, it is beautiful!
Q: How can people volunteer on the ashram farm and what can ashram farm volunteers expect from their experience?
A: People who live locally can always come and help on harvest and planting days or help with weeding any time. If you live farther away your family could also plan to spend part of your summer vacation camping and farming with us. Farm volunteers can have any experience level but attention to detail and the willingness to work hard and the ability to follow directions are all essential skills. You would be on your own a lot-after getting instruction you would be responsible to stay and follow through with a task, but that is a great time to say your mantra, look at the mountain, breathe the fresh air, get sore, and do it again the next day!
People with expertise in certain areas are always welcome to come and plug in or be of assistance in some way. It is amazing how many broad applications there are in farming-even an accountant could help me get organized or a pharmacist could help me count beans! There are lots of mechanical and engineering tasks waiting for the right mind and set of hands. How about designing a hydrolic ram pump for the acequia that could help us pump up water for our front gardens? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to demonstrate green technology here at the ashram? Bio gas, a wind-powered water pump…the sky’s the limit!
Q: How can people support the ashram’s farming efforts?
A: There are several farm items on the ashram wish list on the website that it would be great to have. We really want the microscope because we make a lot of compost here at the ashram. Certain crops do really well with either fungal or bacterial dominated compost and it would be great to know which kingdom is dominating so that we can have the most effective application. We could also help replace soil nutrients by introducing bacteria that unlock nitrogen from the soil or pull it out of the atmosphere. Or we could cultivate specific varieties of nematodes, bacteria or fungus to combat pests. I have been reading about farmers fighting fire blight by putting a tray of bacteria in front of a beehive so that the bees pass over it and bring it to the flowers. So we could get into a lot of really interesting applications if we had the right tools.
People can also donate materials that they may have on hand like usable building materials for building fences, walkways etc. or leaves, hay, straw or manure.
Q: How can people support local farmers in their communities?
A: The three best things that you can do are to buy what is local and in season for your area, frequent the farmer’s markets and check out the local CSA’s.
Q: What advice would you give to people who want to start growing their own food?
A: Do it for the joy of it and in order to give back to the land. To try and turn a profit out of it changes one’s relationship to it. It is less of a service to the Mother and more like making the Mother serve us. All of the things that the earth produces, first of all belong to Her. Like we feel that everything here belongs to Maharaj-ji, so we don’t smell or taste the Prasad that we are preparing before we offer it to him. The Bhagavad Gita tells us not to desire the “fruits” of our actions, nowhere is this more literally true than in farming! Of course farming is a noble profession, but whatever one does should be in service of one’s land. You will get whatever you need automatically.
Q: Are there any resources that you would recommend for advice, seeds, etc.?
A: Fedco is a great place to find seeds. These days even organic seeds can come from a Monsanto field. From Fedco you know exactly where seeds are being sourced. University websites are great for information. Cornell and Cambridge have especially good sites. Local cooperative extensions are always great sources of information too.
Q: What is the importance of growing one’s own food-why go through all of the effort of growing, harvesting and preservation?
A: There is nothing like it. It goes beyond nutrition into building a relationship with the soil and with the garden. But it is pretty hard to compete with industrial agriculture. The last generation was so out of touch with food and farming that we have to double our efforts this generation-but that seems right to me.
Q: How does the idea of land stewardship play into farming efforts?
A: Giving to the land is the most important thing. The ashram land was traditionally marshes and ponds. It was forested, shrubby and diverse. When it began to be cultivated, it was turned into alfalfa fields. Now it is going back to a more natural, biodiverse state thanks to regular irrigation and the implementation of the permaculture plan which focuses on enhancing the land’s fertility.
Tell us a little about your background. How did you get into farming? How long have you been involved in the ashram farm?
I started working at nurseries in Reno after high school, then I went on to nature conservations and farming small gardens. I travelled around a lot looking for my place, but never found it until one night in Colorado I had a dream. In the dream I was shown that I would live at a temple in Taos. I was raking pea gravel. I woke up and remembered that on my only visit to Taos I had seen a Buddhist temple off in the distance. I associated the pea gravel with my idea of a life of monk-type service, thought it must be some kind of Zen rock garden and was sure that that temple on the mountain top must literally be the end of the road for me. I immediately started out to live out my destiny. I reached Taos and kept trying to walk up the road out of town to the Buddhist temple but people kept picking me up and giving me rides back into town, back the other way! Someone told me that there was a temple in town that served food so I came for Sunday Prasad. As soon as I got to the ashram, I saw the pea gravel outside the kitchen. Suddenly it all fell into place. It was November and the ashram needed help so I stayed on continuously for a year. The following winter I took my first trip to India and visited Maharaj-ji’s ashrams.
At that point there was no ashram farm. I helped out with the small veggie garden near where the cut flower garden is now. For a while we had a little garden where the new mandir is being built. Then Suzanna and Jean Jacques had the idea for a bigger farm. We started in the summer of 2008. I helped put up the greenhouse and helped out with weeding and things whenever I could. I wasn’t living here, but was in town going to college and working part time at some of the local nurseries. Reno is a high dessert too so I was used to the climate, but my work at the nurseries taught me a lot about the specifics of growing plants in Taos. But the ashram was always the center of my existence. The problem was that sometimes I would get frustrated with the ashram culture, which seemed to me at the time to revolve around sitting around and drinking chai, and would have to take a hiatus. I would imagine that people were looking at me resentfully because I was blessed enough to make the choice to do seva and was always looking for a place to help out. The thing is, the only way I have ever been able to be here is by doing seva. Whenever I am giving my actions to Maharajji I am always amazed at what I can do. It is like I never get tired. After doing seva I never feel exhausted or taxed, rather I get invigorated and energized.
Though my reaction in the past had often been to pull back from the community, but never from Maharaj-ji, I finally saw in 2013 that there was really a need for someone with my skills at the ashram. When I was in college I used to mow the lawns and then we didn’t have a lawn mower so I learned to use the tractor. Then I was the only one who knew how to use it and I started helping out more. Finally, when I was done with college I moved back to the ashram and, besides a winter with my parents when Stefanie was pregnant with our daughter Scarlett, have been here ever since.
“Feed the Poor and Remember God”
Someone asked Maharaj-ji, “How can I get enlightened?” and he replied, “Feed people.”
At the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Taos we feed from one to three hundred people lunch each Sunday and provide from one to five hundred additional meals throughout the week depending on the season. At festivals held 5 times yearly we serve up to nine-hundred people at grand feasts of Maharaj-ji’s Prasad.
“God Comes to the Hungry in the Form of Food”
Maharaj-ji’s Taos ashram feeds people in the tradition of Maharaj-ji’s ashrams in India. His ashrams in the hill areas of India were constructed in a region where many villagers struggled to get adequate nutrition.
“When the sweets were being distributed, some old people and the children started eating them right there. Babaji came several times during the distribution. He said that anyone who wanted to eat the laddus here should be given as many helpings as they could eat. ‘It is Hanuman-ji’s bhandara. You need not be worried about anybody not receiving Prasad.’ One old woman began crying, ‘No one has ever fed me like this before.’”
-Dada Mukherjee from “By His Grace” writing about holding a Bhandara, or feast, at Maharaj-ji’s ashram in Kainchi
Surprisingly, even in an affluent country like the U.S., people still suffer from hunger.
- 42.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 29.1 million adults and 13.1 million children.
- 13 percent of households (15.8 million households) were food insecure.
- 5 percent of households (6.3 million households) experienced very low food security.
- Households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 17 percent compared to 11 percent.
- Households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (17%), especially households with children headed by single women (30%) or single men (22%).
Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.
Food insecurity exists in every county and congressional district in the country. But not everyone struggling with hunger qualifies for federal nutrition assistance.
Food insecure people people in the United States: 48,135,000
Food Insecurity rate in the United States: 15.4%
ESTIMATED PROGRAM ELIGIBILITY AMONG
FOOD INSECURE PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES
26% Above Other Nutrition Program threshold of 185% poverty
19% Between 130%-185% poverty
54% Below SNAP threshold 130% poverty
AVERAGE COST OF A MEAL: $2.89
ADDITIONAL MONEY REQUIRED TO MEET FOOD NEEDS: $24,558,800,000
IN NEW MEXICO:
Food insecure people people in New Mexico: 358,770
Food Insecurity rate in New Mexico : 17.2%
ESTIMATED PROGRAM ELIGIBILITY AMONG
FOOD INSECURE PEOPLE IN NEW MEXICO
25% Above Other Nutrition Program threshold of 185% poverty
4% Between 165%-185% poverty
71% Below SNAP threshold 165% poverty
IN TAOS COUNTY:
Food insecure people people in Taos County: 5,400
Food Insecurity rate in Taos County: 16.4%
% Below SNAP threshold 165% poverty
20% Above Other Nutrition Program threshold of 185% poverty
4% Between 165%-185% poverty
76% Below SNAP threshold 165% poverty
AVERAGE COST OF A MEAL: $3.37
ADDITIONAL MONEY REQUIRED TO MEET FOOD NEEDS: $3,211,000
Statistics on hunger in America courtesy of Feeding America. For more information visit www.feedingamerica.org
“They would rather waste and throw away than give to others…”
Another aspect of serving the hungry and one which is often overlooked is the issue of food waste. This is something which Maharaj-ji was very aware of when it came to Prasad distribution in his ashrams.
“Those who lived with him in the ashrams saw for themselves how Babaji used to emphasize giving food to the people and being alert about it. He had his way of pulling up people in case of any lapses. Often he did not tell the person concerned directly about it, but would accuse or rebuke someone else in order to teach others. Dada would be very handy in these cases. When someone was putting more food in the packets than could be consumed, Baba would say, ‘Dada will squander away everything. He doesn’t use his brain, but goes on giving away. There is so much wastage of Hanumanji’s Prasad.’ After seeing dissatisfaction on the faces of people taking the Prasad, Baba would say, ‘Dada is becoming excessively greedy. He gives so little Prasad.’
There is no better opportunity to help feed the hungry and reduce our environmental footprint than tackling the challenge of food waste. -Food Waste Reduction Alliance
Food waste is exactly what it sounds like: any food substance that is discarded. It can be raw or cooked, solid or liquid. It’s generated by the processing, handling, storage, sale, preparation, cooking and serving of foods; so it can happen anywhere along the supply chain, from the farm to the manufacturer to the retailer or restaurant, and in our homes or at work.
It is estimated that 25-40 percent of the food that is grown, processed and transported in the United States will never be consumed.
In 2010 alone, the FWRA estimates that around 60 million tons of food waste was generated in the U.S., of which nearly 40 million tons went to landfill. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more food reaches landfills than other type of municipal solid waste.
The opportunity and the need to reduce food waste have never been greater. Reducing food waste in the U.S. can deliver significant environmental, social and economic benefits.
When food waste decomposes in a landfill, it generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. In fact, landfills are responsible for one-third of all methane emissions in the United States. Keeping food waste out of landfills will result in reduced methane emissions. Also, growing food requires many resources, including water and energy. Wasted food is a waste of the resources used to grow it.
Eliminating food waste at the source is the preferred approach. But when food waste is generated, it can be recycled into compost or energy, which offer a number of environmental benefits. Compost improves soil health and structure, increases drought resistance, and reduces the need for other fertilizer. Also, food waste doesn’t create methane in a compost system the way it does in a landfill. Food waste can also be turned into renewable energy through anaerobic digestion, where the methane emissions from broken down food are captured to produce biogas, heat and energy.
Some of the food waste generated in the U.S. is actually not waste at all, as it is safe to eat and nutritious. In these instances, the food can be donated to food banks and other anti-hunger organizations, keeping it out of landfills while helping those in need.
Reducing the volume of food wasted in food manufacturing, retailing and foodservice operations means reducing the overall costs of these operations. Efficient, cost-effective companies are best positioned to deliver affordable products to consumers, grow, create jobs and support their communities.
Farm to Table
Another way to save resources and ensure food security is by growing food locally, either at home or in a community garden, or by supporting local farmers by purchasing food at farmers’ markets.
The Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Taos supports Hanuman’s Garden, our on-site permaculture farm. Next month, in “Feed Everyone: Part Two” find out about some of the challenges and benefits of growing food to feed a community, learn about resources for growing your own food and discover the joys of eating locally and in season.
“Once in Allahabad, Ma and Maushi Ma were complaining to Babaji that they never had time to sit with him because they were always so busy in the kitchen, cooking the food and feeding the people. Babaji said, ‘Ma, I am with you in the house all the time. You are not away from me. The work that you are doing-cooking with your own hands and feeding the people-that is the highest sadhana for the householder. You mustn’t think you are missing anything.’” -Dada Mukherjee, “By His Grace”
Link to information sources of information on combatting food waste in homes and businesses:
Information on becoming waste-free:
Finding a local foodbank to donate to or volunteer at:
“On a feast day at the temple when I was quite young, they were giving out special sweets. Maharajji gave me a small leaf cup of these sweets that he had been keeping especially for me. Then he said, “You give those sweets back to me.” So I gave them to him, because I had such faith in him. He just put the leaf cup under his blanket and began distributing those sweets from under his blanket. I don’t know how he did it, but he gave a handful to each person in that huge crowd of at least a thousand people. I was so surprised. I couldn’t understand how he could be distributing so many more sweets than the number of sweets I had given him, so, being just a kid, I stuck my hand under his blanket and took out the leaf cup just to see. Maharaj-ji turned to me and said, ‘Now the magic is finished.’” -Rajida, “The Divine Reality”
“Serve the poor and remember God. You become one with Christ.” -Maharaj-ji